A pool in Echo Park in Los Angeles. (Gregg Segal)

The public pool is a lot of things: It’s a vital sanctuary for those who don’t live in gated communities or belong to private swim clubs. It’s a destination that, for kids, sets the rhythm of summer days until school starts again. And — as I’ve found in visiting pools from Washington, D.C., to Chippewa Falls, Wis., from Villisca, Iowa, to Los Angeles — it’s a great place to get a feel for the character and culture of a community.

Perhaps most important right now, public pools are also common ground. In our polarized society, we all too rarely mix with people outside our immediate circle, preferring to surround ourselves with familiar voices in our social media echo chambers. But a public pool is an institution where all are welcome: a place to go on a blistering hot day where social barriers might be crossed and labels can become irrelevant.

Ridgway Pool in Philadelphia. (Gregg Segal)

Banneker Pool in Washington. (Gregg Segal)

Gregory Robinson and Janelle Floyd at Banneker Pool. (Gregg Segal)

A group of friends at the Hansen Dam pool in Los Angeles. (Gregg Segal)

Michael Tyler and daughter Ne’veah at Banneker Pool. (Gregg Segal)

Laurie Haynes, center, with friends, at Barton Springs Pool in Austin. (Gregg Segal)

Astoria Park Pool in Queens, N.Y. (Gregg Segal) (Animations by May-Ying Lam/The Washington Post)



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